Think back, wayyyy back—remember the flannel-clad '90s when we were just little girls? The radio was queen and we were endlessly showered in a glorious wave of girl-power infused pop music. The ladies owned their sexuality, preached the strength of sisterhood, always looked fierce and hot damn, could they sing! Of course, a lot of the meaning behind the lyrics was a little over our heads . . . but to be fair, innuendos and metaphors are not the strong suits of (dare-we-utter-the-word) tweens.
Among a sea of crop tops, crushed velvet and platform flip flops (I still refuse to call them thongs . . . thanks Sisqo) was a bright silver lining. However questionable '90s style may have been, the plethora of female-empowering bands made an indelible and totally kick ass mark on my heart, mind, and expanding spirit.
As a lover of the well-timed conversational pop culture reference and reformed TRL addict, I often find myself quoting idols from my time as a '90s youth. But it goes beyond a fondness for childhood reminiscence; beneath the ultra danceable beats and scream-worthy tunes lay more than just ear-worming melodies or grind-worthy beats. I’ve been singing the songs for years, but only recently realized how their meanings have sunk deep into the fabric of my adulthood; their timeless messages still have their hooks in me and are informing the woman I'm evolving into today.
‘Unpretty’ by TLC
The lyrics and video to ‘Unpretty’ still have the power to bring a hazy heat of glossy blue to my eyes. On the surface, it’s a song about looking inward to find the beauty within—the beauty that comes from inside yourself that no one can quantify or ever take away from you. That in itself is a noble message to spread, no doubts or arguments there. But there’s more to it.
There’s something so powerful in the realization that no matter what conventional beauty you see in the face of another woman, there is absolutely no way of seeing what pain may be rippling below the surface without a further extension of friendship. Beauty is so highly regarded that we often disregard the self esteem struggles of the people we perceive as beautiful; being pretty is associated with being happy, but where the fuck did that come from? They are not inseparable qualities and TLC calls out that fallacy.
Moreover, I love the way the ladies of TLC advocate taking responsibility for your emotions. Situations can be shitty and people can be terrible bullies. But like the song says, at the end of the day? It’s gotta be you who accepts the challenges and adapts. Contrary to popular belief, personal accountability is sexy.
‘Too Much’ by The Spice Girls
This song is not only profoundly insightful but an insanely singable classic, if you ask me. It centers around the enigmatic situation with the “easy lover” — someone easy to be with and easy to leave—and the epiphany that maybe it's just not enough anymore.
Recently this is a trend I’ve been noticing among my friends and within myself; we’re teetering into our mid-twenties, leaving the collegiate world of self-contained campus consequences behind. We’re finally shedding the insecurities that our youth has stained us with; those tell-tale ink-dyed blotches on our romantic pasts that taught us it’s not cool to feel too much and "new and fleeting" is always more exciting than lingering depth.
The easy lover brings illusions of passion, back-clawing, and even a dash of grandeur . . . but to what end? No real revolutions or revelations can come from illusion and again, a world orbiting around a desire for nothingness inevitably leads to unfulfillment.
This kind of attitude circles us right back to the throw away culture that we live in now. So much of what build these days—both physically and metaphysically—simply aren’t designed to last. Are our easy lovers leading us on a “road to nowhere?”
‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ by Shania Twain
I’m a lady not easily impressed so This is far and beyond the '90s gem I find myself saying the absolute most. In my case, the rocket scientist/Brad Pitt/knight on an arabian horse that Shania is not impressed by is usually replaced by artist/musician/hot barista or bartender. “So you've got a car!” has been replaced by “So you live in a punk house!” That don’t impress me much.
Sure, on paper you can list as many “must haves” as your swelling heart desires, but Shania and I both know that simply having "the job," making the grade, living up to the cut, sure as hell doesn't make a person the right partner (unless you really are a Brad Pitt look-a-like rocket scientist . . . if that’s you, call me).
It may sound obvious to us grown-ass ladies now, but Shania taught me never to settle for someone who I’m not impressed by. Don't get me wrong: that could mean anything—a kind heart and the pursuit of honest endeavors are just as impressive as honed DJ skills or a killer pad. Just know that If I’m quoting Shania, it's probably not going to work out.
Interestingly enough, I think we can all agree that most 90’s pop groups weren’t doin’ what they were doing with the intention of making any kind of serious mark on our culture beyond letting the good times roll. Uh, Hanson? Aqua?? Chumbawamba?!
Ya gotta wonder what the girls of today are really hearing when they listen to Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, T Swift, Katy Perry, Miley or Nicki Minaj. I do most certainly have qualms up the whazoo about some of the garbage being spewed over the airwaves these days, but not gonna lie, I love me some OG Gaga and totally belt out KP in the car.
There are codes embedded in between the lines—if I could sift through the '90s rubble to discover a feminist agenda, someone else will likely do the same for 2000s. I can only hope that the messages heard will be insightful proclamations rather than a heralding call for the continuation of a disposable future.
Image c/o Flickr